Ring-necked Parakeet

February 2012

13th February 2012 – Berkshire, Buckinghamshire & Greater London

I pick up my client from Heathrow mid-morning after he arrived back from a birding tour to the UAE and we set out with a list of “wanted” birds. The first stop was Wraysbury Gravel Pits (Berkshire) for Smew. After a prolonged spell of freezing weather the previous week, many of the lakes were still frozen, with very little open water. The first couple of lakes we looked at held no or very little open water, but where there was a gap in the ice, it was filled with birds, mainly Common Goldeneye, Northern Shoveler, Gadwall and Mallard, with a selection of Black-headed Gull and Common Gull in various plumages standing on the ice. Despite the lack of ice-free water there were plenty of smaller birds around, which were obviously pleased that the thaw had started and we saw Blue Tit, Great Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Chaffinch, Chiffchaff and my client’s first “life-bird” for the trip, Goldcrest.  The more scrubby areas held a good number of Fieldfare, some of which perched up to give good views, while Redwing flew overhead. The last pit we tried at this site gave us our reward, two drake Smew swimming around with a collection of other ducks, which included Common Pochard and Tufted Duck in addition to the species we had already seen on the other pits. On the walk back we added Meadow Pipit, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, a small flock of Greylag Geese flew over and we crossed another bird off the list, when a Green Woodpecker flew up from the rough grass and obligingly sat on a tree in full view.

We then headed off to Dorney Wetlands, on the Buckinghamshire/Berkshire border near Windsor and on journey we had a fly-over Red Kite. There had been reports from this site recently of two of the birds that my client wanted, Great Bittern and Bearded Tit. After admiring the flocks of Redwing and Fieldfare feeding in the in the fields by the path and the Reed Buntings sat on the hedges, we met another couple of birders by the river. They were doing a count and though they had had no sightings of our quarry species at this site, they had heard and seen a lot of Water Rail and Cetti’s Warbler, both which would be new birds for my client. As the river was unfrozen, it was teeming with duck especially around the weir and there were large numbers of diving duck (Common Pochard and Tufted Duck) and with them four female/immature Goosander [Common Merganser]. A little further on a group of alders held several Eurasian Siskin (another new bird for my client) and we heard our first Cetti’s Warbler of the day. However, it remained hidden so we continued to the ditch, where there was rumoured to be an uncharacteristically “showy” individual. We kept hearing Cetti’s singing, but no sightings apart from a shape moving through the reeds. However there were loads of Long-tailed Tit and Reed Bunting and several Chiffchaff, one of which was extremely cold- grey in appearance and certainly belonged to one of the eastern races (either Siberian Chiffchaff subspecies tristis, or the northern European form abietinus). After talking with a group of other birders (including the people we had spoken to earlier) we decided to wait for one of the Cetti’s Warblers. This species had been a long-time bogey-bird for my client, he having heard them all over the place in Spain and other parts of Europe but never having seen one, Eventually the bird gave itself up and started moving around in a dense piece of vegetation just above the water, and we got good, if fairly brief views as it made its way along the bottom of the hedge. We continued to where the Bearded Tits had been seen in previous days, but no luck; the cold wind and rain shower probably didn’t help. Likewise, the Bittern had no intention of showing itself, if indeed it was still there. However, we heard a Water Rail squealing and the cattle field provided us with another “lifer” in the form of a small flock of Stock Dove and singles of Common Buzzard and Little Egret flew over. We also added Common Skylark and here, Northern Lapwing, Eurasian Wigeon, Common Teal and both (European) Herring Gull (a safety-tick in case of a split by the ABA) and Lesser Black-backed Gull were standing in the shallow water by the weir on our return to the car.  

We then weighed up the possibilities of which our final site would be and decided that the London Wetland Centre in west London offered the most chances of new birds for my client. As with the other lakes we had visited during the day, much of the water was frozen with only the ducks keeping it free. There were a large number of Common Teal and Eurasian Wigeon present and I found a solitary drake Northern Pintail asleep. The hide we had chosen which gave the best panoramic view over the reserve was deserted when we arrived but by scanning the reeds, I eventually picked out a Water Rail scurrying along the reed-edge, but the views were brief. However, another, a few minutes later gave better views. There had been a Caspian Gull reported there earlier that day, but despite a few “pretenders” amongst the thirty of so Herring Gull, it couldn’t be found, but a immature Great Black-backed Gull added another tick to the day’s tally. Another group of people had come into the hide and one of them found a Great Bittern – not skulking in the reeds where we had been diligently searching but walking brazenly across one of the frozen lakes. This bird really did its stuff, sky-pointing (right out in the open) and stopping to give excellent views through the ‘scope. Eventually it flew and landed, still in full view, about eight feet up a tree. We watched it for a while and then as time was getting on, left it up its tree and we called it a day.

The trip tally for the day was a good 67 species with my client getting nine “life-birds”. The highlight of the day for both of us was definitely the Bittern. 

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26th February 2012 – North Kent Marshes & Isle of Sheppey

I picked up my clients, an Australian couple who were new to UK birding, from their home in East London, soon after 7am and after negotiating London’s various road closures we arrived at Northward Hill RSPB reserve in Kent an hour and a half later.

The feeders by the car park provided excellent views of a number of common species including Common Chaffinch, European Greenfinch, House Sparrow, Great Tit, Blue Tit, European Robin and Dunnock, whilst the nearby trees and farm buildings held Common Woodpigeon and Collared Dove, all in excellent light conditions. We then had a walk through the scrub where we saw Song Thrush, Fieldfare and numerous Common Blackbird on the ground, whilst overhead there were large flocks of Rook with the occasional Jackdaw and a flyover Redwing (surprisingly the only one we saw during the day) and a Eurasian Sparrowhawk. From the viewing point on the hill, scanning the flooded pools provided us with a range of wildfowl; Mallard, Gadwall, Common Teal, Northern Shoveler, Tufted Duck and a single drake Northern Pintail. There were also a number of Common Gull, plenty of Black-headed Gull and few Northern Lapwing. The fields held large numbers of corvids (mainly Rook) but we did get a couple of Carrion Crow and a Grey Heron in flight. We then walked up to the top of the hill, where we added to our range of woodland birds with a very obliging Great Spotted Woodpecker, Long-tailed Tit and several more European Robin, Dunnock and Blue and Great Tits and flushed a cock Common Pheasant. We also kept hearing Green Woodpecker calling, but apart from a very quick flash of green disappearing into the woodland, we didn’t manage to see this species. On the way back to the car we had lovely views of European Goldfinch as well as seeing Pied Wagtail and we heard a Tawny Owl calling from the orchard and a Common Crossbill flew over calling, though was not seen.

Next we headed off to the Oare Marshes, near Faversham. This place never disappoints due to the proximity of the birds to the road and the paths. Again the pools were dominated by wildfowl, with a good number of Northern Pintail here, though we did add Eurasian Wigeon, Common Pochard, Greylag Goose and Common Shelduck to the list. Waders were present in smaller numbers than I‘ve seen them previously (probably due to the tide still being out) but we had excellent views of Black-tailed Godwit, Northern Lapwing, Common Snipe and Ruff right by the road, and from the hide a single Pied Avocet and a small flock of European Golden Plover. We also had very good views of Little Egret and Grey Heron. Whilst we were walking around, one of my clients spotted a mid-sized “hawk” flying low over the pools, which turned out to be a “ringtail” (female/immature) Hen Harrier, which was a really good species for the day. Our walk around the East Flood continued with Reed Bunting added and a superb male Beaded Tit which perched on a reed for nearly a minute before flying off back into the reedbed. The estuary and creek was alive with waders, dominated by Common Redshank and Dunlin, though we did find a couple of Grey (Black-bellied) Plover, several Pied Oystercatcher, a large flock of Pied Avocet and a small group of Bar-tailed Godwit. There were a couple of hundred Dark-bellied Brent Geese on the mudflats (though a little distant) and we also saw a couple of Common Seal.  Whilst walking back to the car, we had tantalisingly brief views of a Rock Pipit as well as Greater Black-backed Gull and several Ruddy Turnstone and we heard, but didn’t see any of the several Cetti’s Warblers that were singing during our traverse around the Flood.

We decided to have lunch at the Harty Ferry Inn on the Isle of Sheppey. This is really frustrating as it can be clearly seen ½ a mile way across the Swale (the channel between the Isle of Sheppey and the mainland) from the Oare Marshes, but as there is no longer a ferry of any description it involves a 25 mile round trip. However, we made the pub before they stopped serving and replete we carried on to Leysdown-on-Sea on the Thames Estuary side of the island, stopping on the way to admire a pair of Red-legged Partridge that were standing just by the side of the road. At Leysdown we found several Ruddy Turnstone and a single Sanderling along the tideline (the tide was high by now), but the Sunday fisherman and day-trippers had pushed the waders off the area where we were. A chat to a local birder, found us looking at some Great Crested Grebe on the sea, but we failed to see much else on the water, except for gulls – the sea was like a mill-pond and as a result anything of interest was so far out that it would have been mere specks in the telescope. However, we did get distant, but reasonable views of a Short-eared Owl quartering one of the inland fields.

We elected to finish the day at the RSPBs Raptor Viewpoint near to where we had had lunch. There were several other birders here and soon were had brilliant views of Short-eared Owl, with up to three in the air at a time, including watching them have territorial tussles and perching on the posts. There were also a number of Western Marsh Harrier here and we saw a male feeding on a European Rabbit that it had just caught and later another male on an unidentifiable avian prey item, as well as several females flying around hunting. We also added a very obliging Common Kestrel to the list, which kept perching on some nearby mounds and another “ringtail” Hen Harrier flew across. There were plenty of Common Pheasant and Red-legged Partridge in the fields while small birds were represented by Reed Bunting and some distant Corn Bunting. A single “grey” goose, probably European White-fronted Goose, flew over accompanied by a white “feral” type” goose but eluded attempts to clinch its identify.

Surprisingly, there were no Barn Owls seen – apparently numbers have suffered in the last couple of cold winters, and the resident bird that is present here doesn’t tend to come out until just about dusk, having been pushed off its normal hunting grounds by the mainly wintering, Short-eared Owls.

However, as the sun set and it got colder, we called it a day, having racked-up a total of 81 species during our excursion.

The favourite birds of the trip were voted as Great Spotted Woodpecker, Bearded Tit and Short-eared Owl, and as my clients were new to UK birding, virtually every bird they saw was new to them.   

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Female Goosander (Common Merganser)

Water Rail was seen during the trip on the 13th - sadly the views weren’t as good as this

Great Tit (left) & Blue Tit were seen on the feeders at Northward Hill RPSB Reserve

Black-tailed Godwit

Sanderling